There aren’t many 100-branch chains in the U.S. that can inspire confidence. In-N-Out certainly has its proponents, and Five Guys is an emerging burger brand from Virginia…and that’s about it. In and around Beijing, Malan Noodles has over 100 branches. In the past decade, the corporation (named for a type of flower in northwest China) has expanded to Los Angeles. A Monterey Park branch went under relatively quickly, but a nine-year-old location in a Hacienda Heights strip mall has endured, and this is one chain that Angelenos shouldn’t scoff at.
The space is fairly generic, with high ceilings, a mural of Chinese pagodas, and decorative drop-down lanterns. It’s a good thing the corporation paid more attention to the noodles.
They feature a refrigerated case with 24 different “appetizers,” a word that has very different meaning in a Chinese restaurant, since they’re almost always little plates of cold food. Think anchovy with peanuts, simmered chicken gizzard and spinach with ginger sauce. Still, the main attraction is undoubtedly the house-made noodles, which are available in seven shapes: small round, medium round, large round, small flat, medium flat, large flat and triangle. The menu is focused, with soup noodles, cold noodles, chow mein, and three specialties.
Chicken with Chef’s Spicy Sauce ($9.95) was meal’s biggest winner. Large chile-slicked flat noodles had good bite and were tossed with dried chile pods, green bell pepper, massive chunks of ginger and tender nubs of marinated chicken. The ginger and chilies contributed a lingering tingle, but the dish was more about flavor than spice.
Malan Beef Soup Noodles ($6.95) were floating with a garden’s worth of scallions and cilantro. The clear broth had some similarities to pho, but didn’t achieve the complexity of a pho specialist like Pho Filet or Pho Minh. Don’t get me wrong. The sheets of brisket were still enjoyable when paired with the toothsome triangle noodles. Well, they weren’t quite triangles. Each side was indented from the extruder.
For “Noodle Brown Sauce ($6.95),” we loaded spaghetti-like medium round noodles with a viscous brown slurry that included tofu cubes and ground pork.
We then fully integrated the brown sauce with crunchy bean sprouts, which was a fairly satisfying dish that didn’t have as much pop as the spicy chicken.
Malan Noodles was even more appealing when a branch was situated in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, but I can see returning to distant Hacienda Heights for another generous helping of large flat or triangle noodles.